Army chief on Buchris case: ‘No tolerance for sexual assault in IDF’
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Army chief on Buchris case: ‘No tolerance for sexual assault in IDF’

Amid protests against percieved light sentence for former general accused of rape, Eisenkot says military will prosecute anyone regardless of position

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Ofek Buchris, the former military brigadier general accused of rape and other sexual crimes against subordinates, seen at the Jaffa military court on September 29, 2016. (Flash90)
Ofek Buchris, the former military brigadier general accused of rape and other sexual crimes against subordinates, seen at the Jaffa military court on September 29, 2016. (Flash90)

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot released a statement Saturday regarding a former general on trial for rape and sexual assault, promising “zero tolerance” for such crimes, amid a public outcry by those who believe the accused officer is set to receive an unfairly light sentence.

“I plan to continue to show zero tolerance towards any incident of sexual harassment or assault in the IDF,” Eisenkot wrote in a letter sent to commanders.

“We will not shut our eyes, give up or hesitate to take decisive actions, even in cases where high-ranking officers are involved, regardless of their rank, their actions or their successes — these things are not relevant in such cases.”

The letter referred specifically to Brig. Gen. (res.) Ofek Buchris, who is currently finalizing a plea deal with the IDF’s Chief Military Prosecution.

Ofek Buchris, the former military brigadier general accused of rape and other sexual crimes against subordinates, seen at the Jaffa military court on September 29, 2016. (FLASH90)
Ofek Buchris, the former military brigadier general accused of rape and other sexual crimes against subordinates, seen at the Jaffa military court on September 29, 2016. (Flash90)

In March, two female soldiers who served in Buchris’s office when he served as head of the Golani Brigade, from 2010 to 2012, accused him of rape, sodomy and sexual assault. Under Israeli law, sodomy in this instance constitutes either oral or anal sex when the authority figure exploits “authority in the workplace or in (national) service.”

Buchris faced a total 16 charges, including three of rape and six of indecent acts against a lower-ranking female soldier, identified as “A.” He was accused of a further six counts of indecent acts against a second female soldier, known as “L.” Buchris was indicted in July for the alleged crimes that were said to have taken place between 2010 and 2012.

Roi Blecher (L), Oded Savoray and Maya Sagi, the lawyers for Ofek Buchris (not seen), the former military brigadier general accused of rape and other sexual crimes against subordinates, at the Tel Aviv military court on August 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
From left to right: Roi Blecher, Oded Savoray and Maya Sagi, the lawyers for Ofek Buchris (not seen), the former military brigadier general accused of rape and other sexual crimes against subordinates, at the Tel Aviv military court on August 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

As part of the plea agreement, Buchris admitted in a public letter to certain sexual offenses last week, in exchange for having the far more serious crimes of rape and sexual assault dropped.

From the time the allegations came to light the former officer had declared his innocence and denied any sexual contact with his accusers — until last week.

“In the wake of various media reports, I clarify that I fully admit to the charges against me and I take full responsibility for the actions detailed therein,” the former general wrote in the letter, which was released Thursday.

Assuming the full plea deal is accepted, Buchris will be demoted, but serve no jail time.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, July 13, 2016 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, July 13, 2016 (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

In Eisenkot’s letter, he points to the non-legal steps taken against Buchris, who had been on a fast track to the upper echelons of the army.

“When the suspicions against Brig. Gen. (res.) Buchris arose, I took a number of command measures, notably suspending him and canceling his appointment to lead the Operations Division,” Eisenkot wrote.

“The military legal and investigatory system works professionally and completely independently, and that is how it worked here as well, and I trust its judgment,” he added.

Not all have been as trusting, however.

The perceived light sentence for Buchris’s crimes has prompted a social media protest. Current and former IDF soldiers have taken to Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag “#More than Buchris,” sharing stories of minor offenses — a misspelled word, an unclean floor, a yawn during a formal ceremony — that earned them harsher punishments than the one received by the brigadier general.

The prosecution said earlier this week that the plea deal would be contingent upon his accusers agreeing to it, one of whom insisted on Wednesday that Buchris must take responsibility for his actions and clarify that they were not engaged in a consensual romantic relationship in order for her to consent to the deal.

The lawyer for one of the victims also criticized the letter, saying it lacks empathy and shows him to have done the absolute minimum.

“The suspect’s letter, while being feeble, laconic and missing any real empathy for the accuser for the damage caused to her by his actions, still prevents any renouncing of the plea deal, both by him or others,” the lawyer said, according to Ynet. “The suspect, who lied during the whole investigation, discredited the reliability of the accusers and didn’t prevent mudslinging at them, besides taking responsibility for his action, seemingly lacked the magnanimity to offer a real and sincere apology.”

Some women’s groups have also come out against the plea deal with Buchris, saying he effectively hurt the two victims twice.

“The first time was when he took advantage of them sexually, and the second time when he put them through the ordeal of denials and harming their good names, both by himself and through those close to him,” the Na’amat organization said in a statement.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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